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History

The Honours system of the United Kingdom has a long history with the appointment of Knights Bachelor or “bachelor of England” dating back to the Norman Conquest in 1066. Prior to the introduction of the Order of British Empire in 1917 by King George V, appointments to Orders of Chivalry had been exclusive. The outbreak of the First World War and the sacrifices made in all areas of the society led to a desire to widen the Honours systems..

Timeline

1348
The Order of the Garter: Founded by King Edward III of England. It continues to be the most senior Order of Chivalry. Ladies of the Garter were appointed soon after its founding which continued until King Henry VII discontinued the practice.

1687
The Order of the Thistle: Founded on the 29th May by King James VII of Scotland and James II of England to reward Scottish nationals for their service. The Order originally had 12 Members with admission as a personal gift of the King only.

1725
The Order of the Bath: King George I formally established the Most Honourable Military Order of the Bath. Comprised of one class known as Knight Companions, with the post nominals KB, the Order was limited to 35 appointments. In the same year, the Order established a Chapel at Westminster Abbey where the first installation of Knights took place on the 21st June 1725.

1815
The Order of the Bath: The Prince Regent (later George IV) introduced the current three levels of appointments; Knight Grand Cross, Knight Commander and Companion of the Order. The restructure also included admitting a small number of distinguished civilian appointments.

1818
The Order of St Michael and St George: The Order was founded by the Prince Regent (later George IV,) following the Napoleonic Wars to recognise service by citizens in Malta and the Ionian Islands.

1827

The Order of the Thistle: Interest in the Order was revived and King George IV increased the maximum number of appointments in the Order to 16.

1847
The Order of the Bath: Queen Victoria issued new Statutes for the Order, dropping ‘Military’ from the title and allowing civilian appointments to all levels of the Order.

1868
The Order of St Michael and St George: Changes were made to the Order’s Statutes to encompass all British citizens living or serving abroad and allow for greater recognition of services to foreign affairs. This is still at the heart of the Order today.

1896
The Royal Victorian Order: The Order was created by Queen Victoria to recognise personal service to the Sovereign, members of the Royal Family and senior representatives of the Sovereign.

1901
The Order of the Garter: The practice of appointing Ladies of the Garter was revived by King Edward VII when he appointed Queen Alexandra a Lady of the Garter. Lady appointments were restricted to Queen Consorts and not considered ‘Companions’ of the Order.

1902
Order of Merit: King Edward VII created the Order of Merit to award those who had shown “exceptionally meritorious service in our Navy and our Army or who may have rendered exceptionally meritorious service towards the advancement of the Arts, Literature and Sciences”. The Order was open to both men and women with admission the personal gift of the Sovereign.

The Royal Victorian Order: King Edward VII created the Royal Victorian Chain as a personal decoration for Royal personage and eminent British subjects and is considered the highest class of the Royal Victorian Order

1906
The Order of St Michael and St George: A Chapel within St Paul’s Cathedral was dedicated to the Order, with the first Service of Thanksgiving taking place on the 12th June and attended by King Edward VII and the Prince of Wales (later George V), as Grand Master.
1911

The Order of the Thistle: The new ‘Home Chapel’ of the Order was established by King Edward VII at St Giles High Kirk in Edinburgh. Since 1687 and the deposition of King James II and the destruction of the Chapel at the Palace of Holyrood house there had been no Chapel associated with the Order.

1917
Order of the British Empire: King George V created an Order to honour those who had served non-combatant roles during the First World War. This was the first time women were honoured on such a wide scale throughout all levels of the Order.

Companions of Honour: Alongside the creation of the Order of the British Empire, King George V also created the Companions of Honour. The honour was to recognise the achievement of those who have contributed to Arts, Science and Medicine.

Miss Lizzie Robinson MBE, receiving honour for munitions work, 1917 (Imperial War Museum)

1918
Order of the British Empire: The Order of the British Empire was divided into Military and Civil Divisions, which continues to this day.

1926
Knights Bachelor: King George V approved that insignia was to be presented and worn by those who were appointed.

1935
Order of Merit: Statues of the Order expanded to include those belonging the Royal Air Force (RAF).

1936
The Royal Victorian Order: King Edward VIII amended the Statutes of the Order to include the appointment of women, and appointed Queen Mary as the first Dame Grand Cross.

1937
Order of the British Empire: The images of George V and Queen Mary are displayed on the insignia. Queen Mary was appointed Grand Master of the Order and the colour of the ribbon changes from purple to rose pink with grey accents.

1938
The Royal Victorian Order: King George VI dedicated The Queen’s Chapel of the Savoy as the “Home” Chapel of the Order.

1940
Order of the British Empire: It was announced that The King could appoint a person as a Commander, Officer or Member of the Order for gallantry and acts of bravery not in the face of the enemy.

Crowd of spectators at Ibrox Park in Glasgow during the investiture ceremony on 18 September 1917.
Crowd of spectators at Ibrox Park in Glasgow during the investiture ceremony held at the time of King George V’s visit to the Clyde, 18 September 1917.

1943
Companions of Honour: Number of appointments was increased to a maximum of 65 Members

1960
Order of the British Empire: On the 20th May, Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh, as Grand Master, dedicated the Chapel of the Order of the British Empire.

1962
Knights Bachelor: The Imperial Society of Knights Bachelor established their “Home” Chapel in the Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great, London.

1965
The Order of St Michael and St George: The Order’s Statutes were updated to allow the inclusion of women to the Order. Evelyn Bark CMG OBE was the first appointment as a Companion in 1967.
1967

The Order of St Michael and St George: The appointment of the Current Grand Master of the Order, His Royal Highness the Duke of Kent.

1969
The Order of Merit: The Order expanded to allow admissions to include Commonwealth Nations that are not Realms. There have been a total of 11 Honorary appointments including, President Eisenhower, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.

1971
The Order of the Bath: Women were officially appointed to the Order. Jean Nunn CB CBE was the first to be appointed as Companion of the Order in the New Year Honours List.

1975
The Order of the Bath: His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is appointed Great Master of the Order.

1987
Her Majesty The Queen announced a change in the Statutes of both the Order of the Garter and the Order of the Thistle to allow admittance to women.

1993
Order of the British Empire: The British Empire Medal was suspended as part of the reforms to the honours system. The opportunity for the public to nominate someone for an honour was introduced.

2002
The Order of Merit: The Order celebrated its centenary with a Service of Thanksgiving and lunch at St James’s Palace.

2004
Order of the British Empire: A review of the honours system, carried out by Sir Hayden Philips GCB, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Constitutional Affairs, which recommended that chairs of the specialist committees should be independent from the Government.

2005
The Order of the British Empire: The Government’s response to reports by the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) and Sir Hayden Philips GCB on the honours system, which saw the introduction of a majority of non-civil service experts on the committees.

2005
Knights Bachelor: The Chapel of the Order was moved from St Bartholomew the Great to the Chapel of St Martin’s which is situated within the Crypt at St Paul’s Cathedral.

2007
The Royal Victorian Order: Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal was appointed Grand Master of the Order

2012
The Order of the British Empire: The British Empire Medal was reintroduced starting with 293 BEMs awarded for The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

2013
The House of Commons Public Administrations Select Committee published a second report into the honours system calling for reform.

2017
Both the Order of the British Empire and the Companions of Honour celebrated their 100th anniversary. A Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral was held for the Order of the British Empire.

2019
Companions of Honour: The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace was designated as the “Home” Chapel for the Order.

2018
The Order of St Michael and St George: 200th anniversary of the Order, celebrated by a Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral.

2020
The Queen’s Birthday Honours List was delayed from its normal publication date in June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.